Hair Loss (Alopecia)

Although it’s a temporary side effect, hair loss may be one of the most difficult aspects of cancer treatment. Knowing what to expect can help people with cancer and their loved ones prepare mentally and emotionally.

What to Expect

  • Hair loss usually starts 10-14 days after the first chemo dose.
  • Hair loss may be partial or complete.
  • As hair loss progresses, the scalp may become tender to the touch.
  • The person may lose eyebrows, eyelashes, nose hair and pubic hair. Losing eyelashes or nose hair causes the eyes to tear and the nose to run.
  • Hair should start growing again 4-8 weeks after treatment stops.
  • The regrowth may be a different color or texture than before treatment. Hair usually returns to normal in a short time.

Tips for Managing Hair Loss

  • Practice some kind of beauty/grooming regimen every day.
  • Cut hair short to keep hair loss from happening as quickly. Short haircuts make hair look thicker and fuller, and make hair loss easier to manage.
  • Stay as close to the before-treatment hairstyle as possible when choosing a wig.
  • Use a wide-tooth comb or soft brush.
  • Try a mild shampoo and conditioner, and wash hair less often.
  • Consider using shampoos made specifically for patients with hair loss due to chemotherapy. These products may help with itching and dryness and keep hair follicles in condition for re-growth of hair. Keep in mind there is no research to deny or confirm these claims.
  • Disguise the loss of lashes and brows with eyeliner and eyebrow pencils.
  • Treat any remaining hair normally. Avoid high heat, colorings and permanents, plastic bands and styles that pull.
  • Decide which option is best for you— wigs, hats, scarves, turbans or nothing. Wear what makes you most comfortable.
  • Borrow a wig instead of buying one.
  • Match wig color and texture to before-treatment hair color texture. Have the wig fitted after hair loss.
  • Check to see if a wig is covered by insurance and/or is tax deductible.
  • Use a sunscreen, sun block, hat or scarf to protect the scalp from the sun.
  • Check with the nurse or doctor before using any new product on the scalp.

Find resources for wigs and scarves.